Die For

Watching all the violence and unrest over the past two weeks, listening to the President essentially turn our nation into a dictatorship this afternoon, I thought again about what I decided today while I was riding the bike-to-nowhere.

Not even I will claim that the bike-to-nowhere is interesting. I like the road trip videos I watch, and I even have a favorite (Picos de Europa, in Spain). Still, I’m pretty sure the bike-to-nowhere is why I can walk now and do not look quite like Jaba the Hut.

There are a lot of ways to ride that thing and for a while I’ve been going for longer rides, but I have a couple of goals with it and one of those is burning calories. I don’t eat a lot, but I have a very efficient metabolism. I’ve had to struggle with my weight since I was a younger woman.

I did Weight Watchers in my 20s — that was surreal. The diet centered on fish and peas with other weird stuff included, such as strawberry pie made with smashed bread to look like crust and strawberries suspended in diet Jell-o. BUT if you’ve ever wondered how Barbi keeps HER figure (besides that she’s made of plastic) I’ve seen Barbie plastic meals and they are fish and peas.

After that experience I realized the best way to keep things under control was to manage my portions and exercise. I never viewed exercises as “exercise” (I don’t even view the bike-to-nowhere as “exercise” — it’s the sport I can do right now). When your joints are no longer “joining” (ha ha) all of this is a challenge.

So, looking at my “Map-my-Walk” workout log I saw I wanted to burn more calories in a week than I have been and realized I could do it by 7 shorter rides a week. Strange but true. I commenced that regimen yesterday. It’s kind of fun (relatively) to ride against the clock. I can do that AND walk a dog every day so it’s good for all of us. I can’t walk the dogs far enough to do me much good in the calorie department, though in the soul department it’s necessary to get out there as often as possible.

Anyway, as I was riding in this different way, I finally felt the stirrings of inspiration that have been missing since the virus started. “Yellowstone Park,” I thought, suddenly. “I’ll train to ski at Yellowstone Park this winter.” And then I thought, “For that I would risk my life.” I was stunned by the realization, but it also made me happy. It’s not the Birkebeiner, it wouldn’t be a crowd of people, and who’s to say that by January — assuming we still have a country — we might not have better treatments or even a vaccine?

There is no better summer training for Langlauf than what I’m doing. Suddenly summer seems less oppressive, the virus is still the virus and this fucked up situation is still fucked up but if I make it through? Maybe I’ll see wolves running through the snow and the steam from the hot springs making ghosts of the bison.

Teddy’s Gotcha’ Day Conversation

“It’s been a whole year, Teddy. You’ve lived with Bear and me for a whole year now.”

“What’s a year?”

“It’s an arbitrary unit of time based on the rotation of the earth and its journey around the sun.”

“Earth? Rotation? Journey? In the CAR? I love that. Are we going in the car? I’m really good at jumping up into my seat.”

“You are, Teddy. Everything I’ve taught you, you’ve learned well. I’m very proud of you, little guy. I’m really happy you’re here with us.”

“Bear’s not. “


“She thinks I’m going to steal her rawhide cookie.”

“Well, are you?”

“Well, yeah. I’m a dog. But I won’t chew it. It’s too big.”

“Ah, Teddy. So what do you want to do on your big day?”

“This day is BIGGER than other days? But there’s no snow.”

“True. It’s pretty much just Monday.”


“Never mind, Teddy. I’d just like to celebrate your day somehow.”

“I celebrate every day, Martha.”

“Good point, little guy.”

“Are you going to give me your coffee cup sometime today?”

“What’s ‘today’?”

“Monday. You said so.”

Teddy and his morning cup-o-dregs


Teddy is ALWAYS leashed, by the way. He’s the kind of little guy who would bolt off and chase a car.


Politics (Sorry) Not a Very Interesting Post…

That old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” it’s sure proving its curse value right now.

Last night something like 85 cities across the United States erupted in support of the African American man, George Floyd, who was killed by a white cop. I can’t begin to “write” about this. Part of my brain refuses to perceive it and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions but they are the opinions any person with a conscience should have. What happened to Floyd is wrong. Rioting is not demonstrating. Outsiders are involved. People are frustrated from being “locked down” because of C-19. It’s a perfect storm, and, selfishly, maybe, though I couldn’t change anything anyway, I’m glad I live here.

One big problem right now in the United States is the absence of leadership. Last night (the night before, the night before and the event itself) should have brought the president to the front of the “ship of state” to make a statement that would calm the nation. In the times he has spoken about it, he’s made it worse, giving tacit permission to far right groups to travel to hot spots and aggravate the situation. Last night he was invisible which was certainly for the best. Some of the best rioting was in front of the White House, but the occupant wasn’t home.

This vacuum has left leadership up to the governors of the various states. That and the C-19 debacle has given me a lot of respect for the governor of my state and many other states. Our system of government has many flaws but one thing that has proven NOT to be a flaw during this chain of disaster is the descending line of authority from BIG (the president) to SMALLER (the states) to SMALLEST (cities and towns). Since there’s a vacuum at the top, the “lower” order of leadership has stepped in, particularly in California and New York City. I guess when things are working, elements of the Constitution remain silent, invisible, but when things break? We get Goveronor Cuomo suddenly in the public eye making policy for our own good.

Not long ago I wrote a friend in Italy that he couldn’t understand what’s happening in this country without being here. He’d written me, giving me advice, implying that I might not know which candidate to vote for in November. He wrote to the effect that there is no real choice between Biden and Trump and that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. In my mind I said to him, “You have no idea what you’ve said.” When I answered, I told him that he’d have to be here to understand and that we are currently involved in a kind of civil war. Since I wrote him, that civil war has escalated. I wonder what he sees now from where he sits, somewhere in Italy?

Anyway, I haven’t said anything here everyone doesn’t already know. I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand why skin color matters to anyone — sure, there it is, but so what? I don’t like being dismissed as a “White Person” and it’s obvious to me that no one would like to be dismissed as a Black person or a Latino person or an Asian person. There’s nothing more superficial than skin color, in a certain sense. In other senses, though, it has meaning, cultural meaning. Not all whites come from the same background, have the same heritage. That’s true of every single one of us whatever color we are. Any thinking person knows this. I cannot for the life of me understand why this isn’t obvious to everyone.


Summer Weather

Summer thunderstorms have arrived but so far without much rain. We really need the rain. The valley is green and the cattle — many of them — have been moved up into the mountains. They’ve turned off some of the water to the Refuge and there was a trail of dung from young cattle on the road. This fascinated Bear but I thought it was a crime. I didn’t see any cows, but it’s a big place and they could have been taken through to a pasture in the distance. I have no idea.

Storms were quickly moving over the San Juans, so as the thunder got closer I knew we had to turn around. We did. But it was a beautiful walk and I’m glad we went.

The best part was a duck family. As we passed the pond I noticed MANY ducklings swimming hell-bent for leather (what?) and their mom trying to catch up. I could hear my mom and dad yelling at me and my brother when we stayed at a motel that had a pool. After dinner, we wanted IN THE WATER but we had to wait thirty minutes. I think we took off in much the same way once we were cut loose…

Once Upon a Time…

From “The Examined Life” 1997

The trail in the drawing is one I took once when I was outdoors with my friend back in the day. We were in Switzerland, his home country, on the Berner Oberland, in the famous region of the Eiger. We’d gone up to the Jungfraujoch, done our sight-seeing, and gotten back on the Jungfraubahn to return. Instead of riding all the way down to the station at Grindelwald, we got off the train at a station up the mountain and walked the rest of the way down to Kleine Scheidegg. It was the dream hike of a lifetime and I wished then (and even more now) that it had lasted longer.

A lot of summer hiking in America’s national forests means hiking with cows. Range cattle can be sketchy. One of the few times I was ever afraid hiking on a trail alone I had accidentally gotten too close to a calf, between it and its mom. Realizing my predicament, I froze. I knew better than to keep going when the calf in question was in front of me and a small herd of “moms” was behind me.

The cow that was closest to the calf, lumbered past me and backed the little cow against the the closed gate I needed to go through. (Here we can debate “need” vs. “want”.) Slowly a red cow whose coat matched that of the “endangered” calf came up the hill a couple of friends behind her. Soon the calf was protected from one lone woman hiker, her dog and her hiking stick by a 4000 pound phalanx of bovine nannies. They lowered their heads.

Disappointed, I turned around.

In Switzerland, on that lovely winding trail, we were accompanied by Swiss cows. Swiss farmers love their cattle which, for the most part, aren’t raised for steaks and burgers, but for milk and cheese. In spring, Swiss farmers dress up their cattle in flowers and bells and take them up to the mountains and, when fall comes, decorate the cattle again before bringing them down. The word “alp” means “pasture.”

Our hike started more or less at the red dot…

About 1/3 of our way down the trail to Kleine Scheidegg, we were slowly approached by three cows, the bells around their necks sending happy songs across the mountainside. Raised the way they are, Swiss cows aren’t suspicious of people. Their bovine curiosity brought them to us and together we all walked down the hill.

I didn’t take a photo of this, so I had to draw a picture of the trail. I didn’t put people or cows in it. Maybe if I were drawing it today, I would.


Dystopian Reality v. Dystopian Fiction

It’s pretty weird that I’m “on” Twitter and what’s weirder still is that I have reported two tweets as presenting wildly inaccurate and misleading information. The most recent one?

Yep. The other tweet I reported was also one of this guy’s. We’re living in a science fiction world right now. Seriously. Among other things, 1) There is such a thing as Twitter, 2) the (alleged) president of the United States uses it as platform for announcing and making policy, 3) citizens are responding in kind. I find it utterly bizarre that we’re referring to any kind of communication as “tweets.” But there it is. Leadership in 280 characters a pop.

Among my first favorite novels were Fahrenheit 451 and Ayn Rand’s Anthem — both dystopian novels in which individualism is threatened. Later, when I was older (and more replete with vocabulary) I fell in love with Brave New World.

People like dystopian fiction. I think it’s often with the feeling, “Thank God I’m not living in that world. I hope it never happens to us. Of course, it won’t because we’re not as stupid as the people in this novel.”

The people in these novels regard their world as “normal,” and their daily lives as something to get through and even enjoy. People in Brave New World are very happy with the stratified society for which they have been designed. They have sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, enough money to live on, occupation, safety, security. The idea that there might be something “more” and something “deeper” ends up destroying this world.

This is a formula. A dissatisfied protagonist, a rebel with a higher purpose, upsets the apple-cart. Readers of dystopian fiction (judging from my students, friends and self) like to believe they are the rebel, but I think most of us just want to survive the whole mess and are not rebels at all. Complaining to Twitter about OFFAL’s inaccurate claim about mail-in voting does not constitute an existential act that will bring down a society.

Philip K. Dick wrote his share of dystopian fiction. PKD’s protagonists are very ordinary people, the kind we wouldn’t even notice walking around in our “real” world. Most people know Bladerunner which is based on the infinitely less sensational and sexy Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. (I have the T-shirt). I love the film MORE than I loved the book. Ridley Scott opened it up in ways PKD couldn’t.

Netflix made a (an egregious but probably entertaining) miniseries from PKD’s book, The Man in the High Castle which looks at a future in which the Nazis and Japanese had won WW II. The only part of “America” remaining is the backbone of our world, the Rocky Mountain States. In PKD’s book, the “Man in the High Castle” is the center of and organizer of the covert resistance. Members of the resistance are not sure if he is real or not. PKD’s enigmatic leader lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the miniseries he lives in Canon City, Colorado and they don’t pronounce Canon right. It’s cañon, not cannon. And I won’t even bother to deal with the other teeth-itching inaccuracies (I guess I have a pretty big loyalty to the novel…) “Let it go Martha. Drop it. Now.”

My favorite PKD novel is Galactic Pot Healer. It’s not a dystopian novel and, on most normal levels, it doesn’t make much sense, but I love it. In this story, God is redeemed by art.


Two Months In…

I’ve reached a turning point with this virus and it seems many other people in this country have too. How that turning point turns might be an individual thing. I’m not angry, I’m not looking to get back to going to bars and clubs (what?), nothing like that. I know that because of my age and because of my pseudo-allergy which causes asthma, sometimes called Samter’s Triad and sometimes called Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, I’m part of the vulnerable population. I also feel that because I have an income and I do not need to go to work, I should not be out there taking chances that could potentially take a hospital bed away from someone less lucky than I am.

But it’s getting to me. The other day — Memorial Day — when Bear and I got out of Bella at the Refuge, I started to cry. There was no reason. It was a nice morning, a cool day, a beautiful day. I had things on my mind. A demonstration/parade was being held and there was a chance it could turn ugly (it didn’t). Businesses in my valley are hurting and desperate to open up with the argument that there are just not that many cases down here. In fact, the number of cases has been steadily rising and people without symptoms can pass the virus along. I’ve decided not to deal with a couple of businesses who have publicly denied the reality of C-19. It’s one thing to want to reopen and willingly follow the guidelines; another to deny science and reality.

The last normal weekend before this started was the weekend of the Crane Festival, Monte Vista’s second biggest whoop-dee-do. The biggest whoop-dee-do — the Stampede — has been cancelled. My friend Lois and her son Mark were here for the festival and we had a great time. At the festival craft and nature show, I saw some people I like very much but seldom have the chance to see. There was much hugging and catching up and physical proximity. I spent a long time talking to a woman from Albuquerque who was there with a variety of raptors. It was great. Perfect human contact.

It’s just so strange that a week later, everything changed. I made my last in-person, walking around the store visit to the supermarket that week. It was eerie and awkward. Systems hadn’t been devised yet. No one really knew what to do or how to do anything. The push to sew masks hadn’t happened yet but was about to. Then there was this intense and hopeful and determined effort to help the hospitals and support the lockdown. People seemed to have been behind the whole idea of “flattening the curve.”

Six weeks in, people are “over it.” “The curve is flattened, let things get back to normal,” as if the governor of our state had made everyone stay home, at gun point. As if “flattening the curve” was a “cure” or vaccine for C-19.

In reality my life hasn’t changed a lot, but the strange political landscape and knowledge that this is going to go on for a while, well, it’s affected me. I’m going to have to figure out a way to “re-open,” so to speak, my own creative life because I’m figuring on this lasting until next spring. Summer’s are never easy for me anyway, and at least I have winter to look forward to.

Then, maybe???

This evening the sky was beautiful, golden, intense, and summery. The wind was fresh, and I went outside to talk on the phone with a friend. I would have taken Teddy for a walk, but I rode the bike-to-nowhere VERY far across some Spanish mountains, and I’ve learned that riding the bike FAR and walking don’t make for a very comfortable night’s sleep. I went back to watching a film I started last night and that I was enjoying. Bear came in from the back yard and I asked, “Do you want a cookie?” I got up to get her one. She didn’t stop in the kitchen. She went back outside. I followed her. There, in an orange, golden pink and azure sky from which a light rain was falling, was a rainbow, the first one of summer.

Legit Temporary Fence

I need to adapt but I just don’t. I’m one of those people for whom winter is normal and summer is extreme. In winter, the best outside hours are between 11 and 3. In summer that’s a kind of hell.


During the heat of the day I was out there planting tomatoes and basil and setting up a fence. It’s ugly but it’s lightweight, recycled plastic and it will do the job this year. Next year, maybe, if this turns out to be a good location for gardens, I’ll get a real fence with a less industrial aesthetic.

Everything is in except some flower seeds I just got, Scabiosa or Pincushion flower. I’m just going to plant them with the vegetables to attract pollinators.

Between the fence and the beans I have planted a patch of grass seed and covered it with a burlap sack. If it works, I’ll carry on with that strategy over more parts of the yard. I don’t care if I grow a lawn in 3′ x 4′ sections and it takes all summer. Godnose I’m not going anywhere.

Sadly, there’s not room for all the tomatoes who shot up from seeds in great optimism. I hate that. As you might have guessed, my plants are, I don’t know how to describe it, but I just think it’s so cool that a tiny seed put in a grow thing WANTS to grow and feed me. I think I’d feel the same if I were a farmer, so I’m grateful that I’m not. I’m going to hang onto them for a while to see how the two I planted work in the real ground. Yesterday I was able to rehome 3 and I was happy for that. Every spring I resolve NOT to plant seeds and every spring I plant seeds and face the fact that some will have to go to the great garden in the sky.


Lone Wild Goose

Alone, the wild goose refuses food and drink,
his calls searching for his flock.

Who feels compassion for that single shadow,
vanishing in a thousand distant clouds?

You watch, even as it flies from sight,
its plaintive calls cutting through you.

The noisy crows ignore it,
the bickering, squabbling multitude.

Tu Fu

Gyres, Spirals and Poetry, Oh My!

As an undergraduate, I met William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet, in a summer class, Critical Writing, a required class for English majors. I was in summer school to expunge an F in that class I had won honorably in a joust with a fascist, sexist POS professor. In that summer class we were tasked to write five different five-page essays on ONE poem by Yeats. A long poem, which was a little helpful, but it was still a challenge. I chose “The Double Vision of Michael Robartes.”

My professor was of the school that believed in direct reading of poetry, not historical analysis, so we read the poems without reading criticism or extraneous analysis. I didn’t know (and didn’t learn, at that time) anything about the background of the poem. I just read it and wrote about it. A LOT. I ended up LOVING Yeats, so when the option appeared a few years later when I was in graduate school to take a seminar in Yeats, I signed up.

I love that this is “A New Edition” and it’s practically falling apart…

Yeats kind of lost me when, in his poetic career, he and his wife, George (Georgie) began exploring the “occult” side of life, going into trances and doing “automatic writing,” a thing where the spirits come and direct the pen of the person holding it who simply surrenders to what the spirits have written and later gets to read and decode it. Ultimately there were 4000 pages of this done by Yeats and his wife. Many of these poems are “told” or “seen” by a character, Michael Robartes — Yeats but not Yeats.

All this occult stuff led to a few books and more poems based on something that Yeats and his wife saw as a “system” that explained the rise and fall of human culture throughout history. Two gyres — dynamic spirals — spinning in opposite directions. In a general sense, one of the gyres is the culture building, the other is the culture declining.

Many of Yeats’ later poems center on this idea. It turned out the poem about which I wrote five essays (“The Double Vision of Michael Robartes”) “depends” on understanding Yeats’ vision to be completely comprehended. OH WELL.

I don’t buy that. Yeats was a good enough poet that meaning shines through many of these “visionary” poems even without knowing anything about A Vision. Probably the most famous and well-known of these poems is “The Second Coming.” The gyre appears in this immediately:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.


He’s describing the decay of a world. When the gyre reaches its widest part, it vanishes. “This figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction.” Michael Robartes and the Dancer

Only the work of artists and scholars remain from a world when it has reached its fullest point on the gyre and vanishes. Art and scholarship are coded messages from one age to the next.

“Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make,
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium.”